Staff Reporter

It will be a multi-pronged attack on the problem: Y.K. Sabarwal

Ignorance of law cited as reason for the prevalence of the social evil Counselling, awareness programmes for the affected women planned Judges, law-enforcement authorities to be sensitised to the problem

BANGALORE: Sensitising advocates, judges, police and administrative authorities, about prevention of "Devadasi" system and making them aware of acts pertaining to organised and commercial sexual exploitation of women and girl child are the main objectives of "Project Combat" launched here by the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) on Sunday.

According to the authority, lack of exposure to laws relating to prevention of "Devadasi system" and bringing the affected girls back into society had resulted in prevalence of the menace.

The authority will organise workshops at the State, district and taluk level.

It will conduct counselling, awareness programmes, economic and social initiatives and consciousness-raising activities.

"This will be a multi-pronged attack on the problem," says Chief Justice of India Y.K. Sabarwal.

Quoting the National Commission for Women, the authority says there are 2.5 lakh "Devadasi" girls who have been dedicated to Yellamma and Khandoba temples on Maharastra-Karnataka border. This includes 16,624 from Andhra Pradesh, 22,941 from Karnataka and 2,479 from Maharastra. The Devadasi system is prevalent in 10 districts of north Karnataka and 14 districts in Andhra Pradesh.

The social evil is thriving because of poverty and absence of opportunities in many families. The social customs combined with economic pressures have pushed girls into the system. "The fact that not one of them is married and most of them have children not only leaves them in a traumatised condition but renders their children stigmatised forever," says the authority.

Neither the victims nor the enforcement authorities are aware of laws such as the Karnataka Devadasi (Prohibition of Dedication) Act and Andhra Pradesh Devadasis (Prohibition of Dedication) Act. "The rehabilitation programmes, which suffer from ad-hocism and inadequacy, does not provide adequate means of livelihood and skill development for the victims of Devadasi system," it says.

Under this project, which is an initiative of the National Legal Literacy Mission, the authority aims at exposing 500 judicial officers, 1,000 advocates, 100 non-governmental organisations, 500 law-enforcing officials, 500 administrative officials and Devadasis of Maharashtra and Karnataka, to Devadasi Prohibition Act and rehabilitation programmes. Similar programmes will be conducted in Andhra Pradesh and Goa.

This capacity-building exercise, the authority says, will actively help in effective implementation of Devadasi Prohibition Act.

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